After a whirlwind three weeks, Kristen Campbell hopes life will slowly return to normal.
On March 29, the University of North Dakota announced that it was cutting its women’s hockey program, which competed at the NCAA Division I level. Since then, the 20-year-old Brandonite has let the shock of the announcement wear off, fought to save the program and now has moved on. Campbell, a goalie who spent two seasons with the Fighting Hawks, committed to join the University of Wisconsin Badgers on Thursday.
Campbell had been contacted by numerous programs but knew what she wanted in a new school, based on going through the recruiting process from when she was 13 to 17, and quickly chose Wisconsin, which lost the national final this season.
"They’re an incredible program," Campbell said while travelling back from Madison to North Dakota. "They’ve produced world-class players such as Hilary Knight, Brianna Decker, Meghan Duggan who have all played for the U.S. Olympic team. Even their goaltenders, Jessie Vetter and Alex Rigsby, are (world champions). Their last goalie who graduated (Ann-Renee Desbiens) won the Patty Kazmaier this year as the top player in women’s college hockey.
"Just the calibre and level that that program holds each individual to on a daily basis, the standard of that program and their winning tradition and how every player who goes there will have a change to reach the highest level if they put in the work.
"For me, Wisconsin was the number one team in the nation all season. The other teams are great, but I couldn’t think of a better scenario that I could be stepping into."
Due to the circumstances of UND dropping its program and the players essentially becoming free agents, Campbell will not have to sit out a year despite transfering schools.
Campbell’s addition will give the Badgers three goalies on the roster. Nali Mullan, who backed up Desbiens, will return for her senior year, while Alyson Baldwin just finished her freshman season.
Campbell, who was a Manitoba Female Midget Hockey League all-star with the Westman Wildcats in 2012-13 before joining the Shaftesbury prep hockey program in Winnipeg for two seasons, will be heading into her redshirt sophomore season and has three years of eligibility remaining.
That should make for a competitive camp in the fall as the five-foot-10 netminder was told the starting job will be up for grabs.
"I feel more than ready and confident to step in and be an impact goalie and be a starting goalie with their program," Campbell said. "The coaches see the potential and I’m excited for the challenge."
North Dakota cutting the program made life pretty stressful for all the Fighting Hawks players.
The announcement came right before the world women’s hockey championship, which meant some of the players and coaches were out of state shortly afterward.
The players rallied to try to save the program, starting a social media campaign, and the coach sat down with the university president to present a fundraising initiative. After that was rejected, the coaching staff told the players to look after themselves and commit to other programs.
Due to all the meetings about trying to save the program, figuring out whether they should look elsewhere and going through a new recruiting process, Campbell missed a lot of classes in the last few weeks. The kinesiology and nutrition and dietetics student figures it may affect her 3.7 grade-point average, but believes she’ll still be fine to pass her classes and maintain the academic standard to stay eligible to play next season.
"I always have put hockey before school, which is hard to say," said Campbell, who plans to drop down to one major after she transfers. "I do like school but at the same time, it has affected me a little bit by not being in class, but the faculty and staff have been fairly understanding of the situation. I’m confident that I can finish this semester strong and transfer without an issues academically."
Campbell isn’t sure what she will do in the summer. She still has to register at Wisconsin, but would like to spend some time in Madison to adjust to her new surroundings and skate with her new teammates.
She is excited to play in LaBahn Arena, which is normally packed for games and Campbell described the fans as the best in women’s hockey, but she won’t forget her time at North Dakota either.
"Every time I put on that jersey, it’s not just going to be representing the Badgers," Campbell said. "I’ll be representing everyone I’ve met here and all the girls even on my team are super supportive. Obviously Wisconsin is our rival but I think that anywhere that anyone goes, we’re going to be proud to put on that jersey and take what we learned from North Dakota and all the other teams we played for and apply it to our daily lives and every time we step on the ice.
"I think it will be more exciting than anything. Definitely it will be a great journey for all of us ahead."
» Twitter: @jasterch